of "the right frequency." thanks. >> thanks very much. >> you're watching booktv. next, flynt and hillary mann leverett argue that the u.s. needs to change its policy towards the government of iran which they say is a rational actor and will play a leading role in the middle east for years to come. this is about an hour. >> it is an honor this morning to introduce flynt leverett who served at the state department and cia, but he's currently a professor at penn state out of carlyle. also with him is hillary mann leverett, and she served at the national security council and the state department. she negotiated the u.s. government, with the u.s. government with the iranian officials. she's now a senior professor, lecturer at american university in washington. their writing has appeared in "the new york times," politico,
foreign policy and washington monthly, among others. they came to us last night from virginia. they took the late night train and stayed here. and what i'd like to do is just turn it over to you for your thoughts and comments to start off. >> well, thank you very much. i'm going to start off for us today. let me start by thanking you for hosting us. it's a real honor and pleasure, and we look forward to an interesting discussion today. i'm going to start with two provocative themes from our new book, "going to tehran: why the united states must come to terms with the islam you can republic of iran." the first of these themes, and these two really get at the heart of our book. the first of these themes is that the united states is today and has been for the past few years a power in relative decline in the middle east. and the second core theme is that the biggest beneficiary of
america's ongoing decline in the middle east is the islamic republic of iran. if you're not sure you agree with these propositions, i want to ask you to compare the relative positions of the united states and the islamic republic of iran in the middle east today with where they were on the eve of 9/11, just over ten years ago. on the eve of 9/11, every single government in the middle east was either pro-american, like the governments in egypt and turkey, in negotiations effectively to become pro-american, like the governments in syria and libya, or anti-iranian like the taliban government in afghanistan and saddam hussein's government in iraq. every single government in the middle east was either pro-american, in negotiations to become pro-american or anti-iranian, a pretty good position for the united states in the middle east.
but because of elections, elections, today governments across the middle east in egypt, tunisia, libya, pal stipe, turkey, iraq -- palestine, turkey, iraq, they are all pursuing at least, at least independent foreign policies which are by definition much less enthusiastic about strategic cooperation with the united states and much more open to the islamic republic of iran. simply put, today the united states is in a profoundly weaker position in the middle east, and the islamic republic of rapp is in a significantly -- of iran is in a significantly stronger position. that has essentially happened because there has been a dramatic shift in the middle east balance of power. in our book, "going to tehran,"
we describe how part of why this shift has and is occurring is because of mistakes in american policies in the middle east. but we also describe in our book that part of what is going on is something vastly upside appreciated in -- underappreciated in the west which are the successes of the islamic republic of iran which are also driving the shift in the regional balance of power. we argue in our book that these two are inextricably linked; the american policy mistakes and the successes that the islamic republic is driving, that they are linked. and that it is, in fact, america's dysfunctional policy toward the islamic republic of iran which is at the heart of our decline in the middle east. we also argue that it will take strategic realignment by the united states with the islamic republic of iran to enable america's strategic recovery in
the middle east. we have these arguments first by examining the bases for u.s. dominance in the middle east, something increasingly driven since the end of the cold war by america's unique capability to project enormous amounts of conventional military force into the middle east. no one else, not even china, can project this kind of military force into the middle east today or for years to come. this muscle has given the united states extraordinary economic and political influence in the middle east and, in fact, has reinforced our economic and military dominance is other key parts of the world. but our failures in afghanistan and iraq in particular have underscored for the world and especially for middle eastern publics the limits, the limits of what american military might
can accomplish. we argue in our book that these failures in middle east policy were not just idiosyncratic, ideologically-generated products of the george w. bush administration. as we describe in our book, these stem from a much deeper source that cuts across both democratic and republican administrations, and it's something we describe as the united states, essentially, giving in to a post-cold war temptation to act as an imperial power in the middle east. and it is this imperial turn in america's middle east policies pursued with very little regard for realities on the ground in the middle east that have proven not just quixotic, but deeply damaging to american interests. as a candidate back in twaipt, now-president obama then seemed
to really understand this. he talked about it courageously during the campaign. he pledged to not just withdraw american troops from iraq, but to change what he called the american mindset that had gotten us into the strategic mistake of invading iraq in the first place. he pledged to really change america's middle east policies. but instead the obama administration has pursued the same sorts of policies as its predecessors, the same policies that did such damage to america's strategic position. as a result, for example, the obama administration today is not just presiding over a stalled middle east peace process, it is presiding over the very demise of a two of state solution to the israeli/palestinian conflict. and while the obama administration's military intervention in libya was able to overthrow moammar gadhafi, it is now incubating in libya a
senate threat to american security -- a significant threat to american security interests. and as we detail in our book, "going to tehran," the obama administration has gone beyond the bush administration in threatening the islamic republic to doing something we argue is even more dangerous, to actually discrediting engagement as a strategy for dealing with the islamic republic of iran. they've to done so by saying tht they've tried to reach out to the islamic republic of iran and failed and, therefore, engagement is perhaps a fool's err rapid. the results of these policies is that on president obama's watch the middle east balance of power has shifted even further away from the united states and its allies than it was at the end of the george w. bush administration. this brings me to another critically important part of our book which is how the islamic republic of iran has become the
biggest beneficiary of american mistakes and our ongoing decline in the middle east. in our book we lay out how by pursuing a foreign policy and building a domestic political order that actually attracts middle eastern publics, the islamic republic of iran has been able to take advantage of american mistakes to improve its own position dramatically. the key to the islamic republic's successes has been that beyond the shift in the middle east regional distribution of power, who has power in the middle east as i detailed earlier, something even more important is happening, and that is that the middle east balance of power itself is changing. it is now becoming increasingly less defined by hard military capabilities where the united states has the clear advantage and the islamic republic of iran
is relatively deficient and more defined in terms of a balance of influence where the islamic republic of iran has real, unique advantages. as we explain in our book, the islamic republic is both encouraging and taking advantage of this very important transformation in the middle east. one of the most remarkable things about this shift in the middle east balance of power over the last decade away from the united states and our allies and toward the islamic republic of iran and its allies is that this shift has had virtually nothing to do with iran's use of military force or economic coercion. the islamic republic hasn't invaded anybody or sanctioned anybody. it's all about the islamic republic's soft power in -- in our book we set the relicense on
soft power in a -- reliance on soft power in a strategic alicense. a critical set of sources that we drew on for our book were the unique and unparalleled opportunities we have had to sit and listen, listen to iranian diplomats and national security officials explain how the world looks strategically from their perspective, from their point of view. this is something almost never done in american analysis of iran today. and from our experience, our research, our interviews, we detail how from tehran, looking at the world from tehran, one sees 15 neighboring states, 15. nearly all of whom have been hostile to the very idea of an islamic republic. and not just hostile, but iran's neighbor to its east, afghanistan under the taliban, killed iranian diplomats in
their consulate. the islam lic republic's nape to its west, with help from the islamic republic's other arab neighbors invaded iran killing 300,000 of its citizens. and today many of those same arab countries that helped iraq invade and fight the islamic republic today host thousands of u.s. troops and billions of dollars worth of the most deadly u.s. weapon systems. all poised and threatennenning to attack the -- threatening to attack the islamic republic to disarm it of weapons of mass destruction it does not have. to deal with these significant security challenges, the islamic republic of iran has built a strong, defensive military capability. but it has virtually no capability to project that military power offensively
beyond it borders. -- beyond its borders. so what it has done and its real success in its national security strategy has been to develop a soft power strategy. a strategy that galvanizes regional publics, galvanizes these publics' most intentionally-felt grievances including their grievances against the united states and israel and, most importantly, their grievances against their own unrepresentative, pro-western governments and regimes. and then what the islamic republic has done is it has aligned itself with those publics, with public opinion itself in the middle east to constrain hostile governments from attacking it. just think about how bahrain's already-angry, largely shia population would react if we used our fifth fleet based in
bahrain to attack the islamic republic today. u.s. military planners could hope that bahrain's population would be passive, as i think they assumed maybe each five years ago -- maybe even five years ago, but today that clearly seems reckless. for all the ridiculing many american policy elites do of the islamic republic, the islamic republic's appeal to regional publics actually works. it works to constrain the united states and hostile, unrepresentative, pro-western governments neighboring iran. iran has also worked to reip force these -- reinforce these aspects of it soft power strategy over a number of years by picking what we would call winnerrers. for example, hamas, hezbollah, shia groups in iraq, even the muslim brotherhood in egypt as its political allies in key regional arenas across the
middle east. and this yearslong bet by the islamic republic of iran on these groups has paid off, because now their regional allies have become the most influential players in their respective arenas today. the result is that today it is the islamic republic of iran and its ideas of participatory islamist governance and an independent foreign policy that has real influence, real power in countries across the middle east from egypt to baa rape that were -- bahrain that were once clearly in america's camp. in strategic terms, the islamic republic of iran has been and is using through its narrative not its drones, not its tanks, through its narrative they are using the political awakening of middle eastern publics to alter the very nature of power politics in the middle east.
as we describe in our book "downing to tehran," this has been an effective foreign policy and national security strategy for the islamic republic of iran, one that is exactly and repeatedly underappreciated in the united states. and at this point i'm going to hand it over to flipt to continue -- flynt to continue our discussion. >> to pick up on hillary's point about this soft power strategy being a real strategy for resetting a regional balance of power that iranian policymakers have long seen as tilted against the islamic republic, i think it's important to note especially for americans to understand that it's only an islamic republic of iran which can accrue these kinds of soft power gains. the shah couldn't have done it. a pro-western, secular republic of iran couldn't do it. only the islamic republic of iran can do it.
but as we discuss in our book instead of recognizing and pondering this, american political policy media elites persist in depicting the islamic republic as an illegitimate system so despised by its own population that it is in imminent danger of overthrow. american elites have been doing this literally for more than 30 years, virtually since the islamic republic's founding out of the iranian revolution. and for more than 30 years, the islamic republic has consistently are defied their -- consistently defied their relentless predictions of its collapse or defeat. the islamic republic has survived because its basic model, the integration of participatory politics in elections with principles and institutions of islamic
governance and a strong commitment to foreign policy independence, this model is, in actual fact, what a majority of iranians living inside their country want. they don't want a political order grounded in western-style secular liberalism. they want an indigenously-generated political order that reflects their cultural and religious values. as the reformist president said muhammad hasny said before leaving office, they want -- these were his words -- freedom, independence and progress within the context of both religiousty and national identity. and that's what the islamic republic with all its flaws offers iranians the chance to pursue. this was the vision of imam khomeini embodied in the islamic
reprick's constitution and even -- republic's constitution and even those iranians who want the islamic republic to evolve in significant ways. at the end of day, even most of those iranians still wanted to be the islamic republic of iran. in the course of our visits to today -- tehran, a number of the policymakers and scholars we talked to have pointed out to us that the islamic republic doesn't call itself an islamic state like, say, saudi arabia does. for that implies a kind of perfection that iranians deeply invested in the system know they have not attained. in iran the islamic republic is by definition something that is very much a work in progress. and the islamic republic has made progress in a number of impressive ways. contrary to deeply-rooted but
ill-informed western stereotypes, the islamic republic has achieved far more progressive outcomes in alleviating poverty, delivering health care, providing educational access and, yes, expanding opportunities for women than the shah's regime ever did. hillary and i are happy to go into this more in the q&a if you like, but let me give you just a couple of examples right now of what i'm talking about. the islamic republic has developed a health care system that has greatly increased life expectancy and greatly reduced infant and child mortality in iran. the provision of health care to rural areas has been particularly impressive since the revolution. the islamic republic has basically equalized health outcomes in urban and rural settings in a manner which is really quite extraordinary in an international context. get this.
there are now iranian doctors and public health specialists working with state universities and ngos in the state of mississippi to introduce iranian-style rural health care delivery into medically-underserved parts of the mississippi delta. the islamic republic is also greatly -- has also greatly expanded educational opportunities, vastly increasing literacy rates in iran and, according to the world bank, basically eliminating gender disparities in the educational access. one facet of women's progress in iran that remains almost completely unappreciated in the west is the way that access to higher education is altering the status of iranian women. while the islamic republic places restrictions on women, say in matters of dress, for example, that westerners would consider up acceptable in their own societies, the majority of
university students in iran are now female, the majority of students in the best universities in iran are now female, the majority of medical students in rapp -- in iran are now female, and women's presence is increasingly felt across an array of academic and professional disciplines. now, notwithstanding the islamic republic's staying power, foreign policy pundits here who, in many cases, have no direct connection to on-the-ground reality inside iran and a cadre of so-called iran experts, many of whom are expatriots or iranian-americans whose families fled the revolution and don't want to see the islamic republic succeed, these commentators continue to misread and misinterpret iranian politics, telling us that the system is on the verge of collapse.
one of our themes in going to tehran is that until americans stop listening to the agenda-driven, fact-free analysis coming from such people, the united states will continue to get it iran policy wrong and will continue losing ground. in the middle east. a good example of what i'm talking about in this regard came in 2009 when, in a collective act of analysis by wishful thinking, american elites focused on former prime minister mousse a veef's campaign to unseat incumbent president mahmoud ahmadinejad in that year's iranian presidential election and on the green movement that emerged out of mousse a i have's campaign as the key to solving america's strategic problems in the middle east. american and other western elites widely anticipated a victory when in june 2009
ahmadinejad won, those same elites almost universeally condemned the outcome as a fraud. they did so even though every method logically-sound poll conducted in iran before or after the election including polls conducted by western polling groups -- 14 polls in all -- show that ahmadinejad's re-election with roughly two-thirds of the vote which is what the official results show that he got was eminently plausible, and americans embraced a narrative of election fraud even though neither mousevi or anyone else ever presented any evidence of how the election was stolen. this never-demonstrated but fervently-espoused narrative conditioned american western elites from -- [inaudible] of the green movement, widely portrayed in the west as a mass popular uprising poised to sweep away the islamic republic perhaps within just a few months.
but it was evident to anyone prepared to look soberly at reality that even at its height the green movement did not represent anything close to a majority of iranians and that within a week of the june 2009 election the movement's social base was already contracting. but the myth of the islamic republic's illegitimacy and instability did not die as a result of the green movement's failure. indeed, it got a new lease on life in early 2011 when the arab awakening began. through the pro-green lens that continues to shape most western commentary on iranian politics, it seemed inevitable that the wave of popular discontent like those that took out pro-american leaders in tunisia and egypt forced a leadership change in yemen's u.s.-allied government and seriously threatened the government in bahrain would end
gulf the iranian government too. most of the pundits who had jumped on the regime change bandwagon in 2009 hopped back on for another ride. on february 21, 2011, billy -- [inaudible] and george soros appearing on cnn's gps offered a bet that, quote: the iranian regime will not be there in a year's time. closed quote. two days later in foreign policy, hillary and i took soros up on his wager. now, i recognize the notion of two former u.s. government officials turned university professors betting george soros on anything might seem a tad absurd, but that's what we did. we even bet that not only would the islamic republic still be iran's government in a year's time, but that the balance of influence and power in the middle east would be tilted even further in its favor.
almost two years have elapsed since soros made his wager. i have to say we're pretty eager to collect on it. [laughter] later in 2011 western analysts focused on the back and forth between ayatollah khamenei, the islamic republic's supreme leader, and president ahmadinejad over the resignation and reinstatement of the intelligence minister and other issues. the same cast of iran experts, mainstream media gave these developments overblown, even hysterical treatment, portraying them as, quote: unprecedented finds of an insecure regime fracturing at the top. such analyses revealed at the very least lamentable ignorance about the islamic republic's political history which since the revolution has been marked by much the same kind of intense competition among elites over policy and power that you see in the united states. tensions between imam khomeini, the islamic republic's founding
father and its first elected president, sadr, resulted in sadr's impeachment during wartime in the 1981 after the reformist mohamed hotmy became president in 1997, his disagreements with eye ayatollah khamenei, those disagreements were at least as contentious as the jockeying between khamenei and ahmadinejad. in iran tensions between elected presidents and the leader are hardly new, and they're not an indicator of systemic crisis. they are politics as usual in a system with multiple power centers and institutionalized checks and balances. but in the fact-free approach of many so-called iran experts here in the united states, if iranians display the sort of con testation over policy relative position within their system l that virtually everywhere else in the world we call normal
politics, then our iran experts tell us that this is something abnormal and pathological and that the system must be coming apart. it is not. despite these experiences and other similar experiences too numerous to lay out here but that we go through in the book, american political and policy elites continue promoting the idea that, of the myth of the islamic republic's illegitimacy and fragility. today this myth comes in two interlocking versions. one, that sanctions are now finally working to undermine the islamic republic's basic stability and, two, that the arab awakening has left the islamic republic isolated in its own neighborhood. on sanctions hillary and i have just returned from our most recent visit to iran last month. we're happy to talk more about current economic conditions, social and political conditions in the q&a.
for now let me say simply that no one who has walked the streets of tehran who has seen that iran's economy is not collapsing or who's talked to a range of iranians could possibly think that sanctions are working in a way that will compel either the islamic republic's implosion or its surrender to american demands on the nuclear issue. that is delusional. on the arab awakening, the same pundits who say that sanctions are working advise you to embrace the logic-defying proposition that the same social currents that depose pro-american leaders in tunisia and egypt and are empowering islamists in countries across the arab world will, in iran, somehow transform the islamic republic into a secular/liberal state. that is truly logic-defying. in the tehran we can tell you --
in tehran we can tell you iranian policymakers and analysts see the awakening as hugely positive for the islamic republic's regional position. they judge, correctly, that any arab government which becomes at all more representative of it people's beliefs, concerns, etc., will also become less enthusiastic about strategic cooperation with the united states, let alone israel, and more open to tehran's message of foreign policy independence. tehran doesn't need arab governments to be more pro-iranian. it just needs them to be less pro-american, less pro-israel and more independent. more particularly, one hears in washington that because of the arab awakening tehran is going to lose syria, its quote-unquote only arab ally, with dire consequences for the islamic republic's regional position or even its internal stability.
i'll two -- i'll make two points on this. first, syria isn't iran's only ally today. syria isn't only iran's most important arab ally today. thanks to president george w. bush and all those democrats who supported him after 9/11, the islamic republic's most important ally today isn't syria, it's iraq. second point, iranian policymakers don't believe that syrian president bashar al assad will be overthrown, at least not by syrians. assad still retains the support of about half the syrian society, even if assad felt compelled at some point to surrender damascus, he and his forces would continue to control a significant part of syrian territory. under these circumstances syria is hardly likely to become an ally of the west. indeed, any sort of plausibly representative post-assad government isn't going to be more pro-american or pro-israel than the as cads have been --
assads have been. such a government might even be less keen about keeping syria's border with israel quiet, and that will be just find for the islamic republic. iranian officials believe that overall developments in the middle east are continuing to steer the regional balance in tehran's favor. as far as the prospects for u.s./iranian diplomacy are concerned, hillary and i think one of the most dangerous myths promoted by some of america's so-called iran experts is that the islamic republic is so ideologically committed to anti-americanism or at least so dependent on anti-americanism for it domestic legitimacy that it can't ever seriously contemplate improving relations with the united states. this is thoroughly contradicted by the historical record. as we show in our book, the islamic republic has been prepared for decades for better relations with the united states.
we're happy to talk about that in the q and a. but in the iranian view, this is only possible on a basis of equality and mutual respect, meaning that the united states these to accept the islamic republic. it's the united states that hasn't been willing to deal on this basis. even under president obama his administration has participated in multilateral nuclear negotiations with iran and used iran's unwillingnesses to surrender to u.s. demands to intensify sanctions, step up covert action, launch cyber war against the islamic republic and come ever closer to regime change as the ultimate goal of american policy. while u.s. officials regularly excoriate iran for either playing for time or being too internally conflicted to
negotiate seriously, it is washington that has not been diplomatically serious. powers recognize its right to enrich under safeguards. but president obama, like his predecessor, refuses to acknowledge iran's right to enrich. for this would require acknowledging the islamic republic as a legitimate public order representing let psychiatry mat national interests and as a rising regional power unwilling to subordinate its power to washington as, for example, washington regularly expected of egypt under sadat and mubarak. this is why hillary and i say that obama has done more damage even than george w. bush, because he has discredited the idea of engagement by saying he tried but failed when, in fact,
he has not seriously tried. >> i think we're going to have time for questions. >> yes. >> we're about 40 minutes. >> that's fine. no american president since the iranian revolution has been prepared to do this, to accept the islamic republic. but, and this is a key argument for us, this is the only way diplomacy can succeed. there is an important precedent for this in modern american history. it's appropriate to call this in the month in which richard nixon's 100th birthday falls. nixon and kissinger's opening to china, their great achievement was not that they talked to beijing. the united states had been talking to beijing for years. in ambassadorial-level talks that had gone nowhere. nixon and kissinger's achievement was that they accepted and persuaded their countrymen to accept the
people's republic of china as legitimate political order representing legitimate national interests that the united states for its own interest needed to come to terms with. that's what we need to do. with the islamic republic today. is obama going to be up to this in his second term? thank you very much. [applause] >> we've got about 20 minutes left. i just wanted to ask one question. you know, as i read through your book, one of the quotes you have in there, iran has never attacked another state or even threatened to attack one. i've got a little bit of experience. i was at west point on the 21st of january in 1981 when we had dinner with the hostages as they came back, and i think there'd
be some argument along that regard. i spent two years in afghanistan in several of the operations we did we uncovered caches and weapons that were marked with iranian markings, and our assessment was that they'd come from iran. if you look at, um, you know, the 2006 israeli fight in lebanon, i think you would have some discussions there about iranian involvement in that operation. so i hear ya that, you know, they have not invaded another country, but clearly supporting in other ways i think is something that in my short experience i've seen. so i wonder how you respond to those activities. >> i'll go first.
particularly with the rhetoric or how some of the rhetoric is translated or construed here that the islamic republic is aggressive of and particularly aggressive vis-a-vis the state of israel. you constantly hear that the islamic republic of iran has threatened to annihilate israel. clearly, they have a bad relationship with israel. it doesn't accept it, it doesn't accept its way of its political order in terms of how it disenfranchises a large segment of its p population, and it is opposed to that. the islamic republic also has used in terms of its neighbors and how, how their orders are that are hostile to iran. it sees a lot of these political orders as hostile to it. but what we're trying to get across is what iran does to respond to what it sees as these threats is not to threaten to attack, is not to threaten to
invade and is not to attack or invade. the islamic republic has never attacked or invaded any other country. that's not what it does. what it does is something even more powerful, something maybe even more to tent vis-a-vis the united states that we can't really compete with as we stay a conventional military power which is, first and foremost, it develops relationships with groups on the ground. those relationships have much to do with, and we argue mostly to do with, its soft power appeal, its appeal in themes of its -- in terms of its participatory governance -- >> [inaudible] >> and its resistance to occupation. whether that occupation is in west bank and gads saw or the u.s. occupation in afghanistan, essentially, or as it was in iraq. it does that very, very effectively. but iran, like other states, iran under the shah, other states, also buttresses those relationships with support
whether that's financial support or gun cans and things like that -- guns and things like that. but what we are trying to get across is by focusing on that piece, that is a very small piece, and that's not the problem. of we can outgun iran anytime. the u.s. military can project overwhelming conventional military force and crush iran militarily in any arena. that's not the problem we have with iran. the problem we have with iran is their ability to form these deep relationships with groups across the region from afghanistan to egypt. that's what we don't have an answer to. that's what we're saying is dramatically shifting the balance of power. if it were all about who has the most guns, we would be in the great situation that we were in in the 1980s and 1990s where are where iran didn't stand a chance. the islamic republic had no way to oppose us in the middle easts. but what they've done is they've seized on this political awakening in the middle east, and they are changing the balance of power in a way that we have no answer to.
>> yeah. please identify yourself. >> yes. i'm gloria, and i've been in the u.n. since 1957. i would like to point out you said some very important things, but what we have lost with iran is trust. when we did not allow the shah of iran to come into the united states to die, we ended a relationship since we started the united states. iran goes back 2,500 years. that's realizing the temples, every temple has the everlasting right to king dorias. now suddenly you have this hate with the jewish population worldwide. i believe what you said, you put a very big key on this. i'm admiring everything you've said. but i believe one of the worst is the loss of the trust. put yourself, any one of us
today, would we trust america if if we were a head of state of iran, what they did to the shah of iran? this is what's frightening. and if that could ever be repaired, it's fragile, in my opinion, and very key. i know iran, i know the old royal family, i knew -- traveled with the everyone rest. i believe, you've said is right. i have one other quick question because i don't want to disturb you. what about egypt today? the islamic republic? what will happen there? because nobody really knows, but that's very key. whispers are they're going to give relations to israel, under the table relations. i hope i'm right with my information. what is your opinion? [inaudible conversations] >> trust is a very difficult issue, and we argue in the book that the one known antidote to trust is transparency.
and i think for many americans this issue comes squarely focused on the nuclear issue today, that with this lack of trust we can't possibly trust whatever the iranians may or may not say or may or may not do with the iaea, the international monitoring mechanism to look at iran's nuclear program. for many americans they're never going to trust the islamic republic, and for many iranians, they're never going to trust the united states. but the key is transparency. and here what we focus on is if there is a better relationship between the islamic republic of iran and the united states, if there is a real rapprochement, a real strategic alignment, then we argue the islamic republic of iran would sign on to, would agree to more international mechanisms, treaties, agreements for increased transparency. so, for example, on the nuclear issue which i think is the focus for concerns for many americans, we're never going to get the
islamic republic to stop enriching uranium. it's, as they see it -- and i think there's a lot of credibility to this -- it's a sovereign right, and it's a treaty right that every country that has signed up to the npt has. but what you can get with them if there is a better relationship is for the or islamic republic to sign on to even more protocols, for example, the additional protocol to the npt that would allow even more intrusive inspections. and if you had a better relationship between the united states and the islamic republic, you could have joint ventures, for example, on nuclear projects. i know today that seems a bit crazy, but that is really the long-term answer. if you have american and iranian scientists working together, that is really the only way you will know that iran doesn't have a secret nuclear program in a military installation down the street. as many, as much intelligence as you want the put out there, it doesn't solve that issue. it's having american and iranian scientists working together. but that cannot happen unless the united states accepts the islamic republic of iran as a
legitimate political order and respects its legitimate national sprees. interests. >> [inaudible] by name is rhonda, and i'm a resident correspondent for -- [inaudible] an online site. and my question is a little different. my sense is that i appreciate all you've said about iran and the things that people should understand about iran. i think all that's very helpful. but i don't think that's the real issue. i think the real issue is that the u.s. government wanted better advice, obviously, it could get it. if it wanted a more realistic assessment, it could get it. so i think that's secondary. and my question to you is since you've had some experience in the government, what is the -- why is the government pushing
this inaccurate assessment? and for me what i see is mainly that they don't want you, iran, to do nuclear enrichment for peaceful purposes. this is abrogating the npt. >> yep. >> and if they make an issue with iran, they're also making an issue with many other countries around the world in keeping a monopoly of enrichment capability. so to me, that seems the main issue in all this. i don't know if it's to you, and i'm wondering from are your experience in government, you know, what your sense is of this whole situation. >> it's a really, i think, profoundly important observation. um, you know, from our experience in government and reflecting on that since we, since we left, you know, i think this gets back to hillary's reference. we tried to lay it out in the book to what we call the imperial turn in america's
middle east policy. i mean, in some ways you'd argue the imperial inclination was always there but during the cold war, you know, because of the constraints imposed by the realities of soviet military power, we were constrained in terms of our ability to put large amounts of force on the ground in the middle east on an open-ended basis. we were, you know, on the whole pretty reluctant to do it. once the cold war ends, that constraint appears to be gone, and so the united states embarks on this 20-year project to try and remaining the middle east -- remaining the middle east, we do this after the first gulf war by keeping troops ops the ground, we do it by imposing sanctions
in iraq that kill more than a million iraqis, we do it with post-9/11 campaigns in iraq and afghanistan, and, you know, our argument is this has not worked. this has actually made the united states weaker, less able to achieve its own goals in this important part of the world, but it is both culturally and politically so overdetermined in the united states. culturally we have thought at least since woodrow wilson that unless we can basically make the rest of the world or critical parts of the world look like us, we can't really be safe or secure. we also think that basically all people deep down really want to live like us, so by trying to engineer these outcomes we are actually doing them, we're doing humanity a favor by doing this. and, you know, when there's ample evidence mounting that
this is not working, this is actually not congruent, it's going to mean kind of, you know, ideational change, cultural change in way for us. and that's really, really hard, it's really, really hard to do. and i think that's why, you know, people keep coming back to the same experts who are wrong on iran time after time after time after time after time. but they say the right things. they say the culturally and psychologically comforting things. and so we keep coming back to them. we obviously don't say particularly comforting things in this way. but we're going to keep saying them. yes, ma'am.
>> [inaudible] a publisher and have worked with flynt and hillary. you're very, for all the doubters that you advertise, you're rather optimistic, i think, about what could happen if the united states were to change course. what's your feeling about, um, the future of iran and israel? >> we are relatively optimistic, i think, in terms of what could happen. we used -- we detail in our book pretty significantly particularly in the last part, the last chapter the precedent of how the united states was able to recover its position in a similarly-vexing time when it faced strategic disasters in vietnam and korea. we were able to rescue our strategic position in asia by coming to terms with the people's republic of china. and for many years people said
the united states couldn't possibly accept the people's republic of china, what about taiwan, what about japan, korea, our allies, our allies would be in dire straits if we accepted the people's republic of china. but just the opposite happened. just the opposite. taiwan, south korea, japan all experienced economic and political boons, i would argue the biggest in their histories after we came to terms with the people's republic of china principally because our rapprochement with china took away the dramatic instability in asia that the conflict between the united states and the people's republic of china had brought not only to our two countries, but to our allies. so similarly we argue if the united states could come to terms with the islamic republic of iran, iran is not going to accept -- the islamic republic is not going to accept israel's current political order and ongoing indeterminant occupation of palestinians. it's not going to accept that. but china has not accepted
taiwan either. what we argue is that if the united states and the islamic republic could come to terms and could strategically align with each other, we could, in a sense, like china and the united states bracket issues where we disagree and resolve, commit to look at these issues, discuss these issues and eventually perhaps, perhaps to resolve these issues nonviolently. that's the deal we made with china over taiwan, and that has essentially worked for everybody. the idea that somehow we can coerce and force the islamic republic to accept israel is a fool's errand. not only is it a fool's errand with the islamic republic of iran, but their position is gaining ground. and we could see in egypt, we had another question about egypt earlier, egypt is going in the same direction. and what we need to do is to set, set our policy correctly with the islamic republic that other countries could come to terms with as well so that egypt could be comfortable with having a settlement with israel but not
having to accept an order that they see as repressive to fellow arabs and muslims. that's what we could do for all the other countries that need to in some way come to terms with an israeli presence in the middle east that they cannot understand, they cannot accept as legitimate. we can do that with a strategic rapprochement with the islamic republic. >> we have time for one more question. i know you've had your hand up. >> first off, i want to say thank you. my name is jonathan donald, i'm a history student at boston university. i'm very interested in the opportunity for a breakthrough with relations to iran. but when i look at the middle east today and i look at a proxy war going on across the middle east, i see a few big problems, two of them being the u.s./israeli relationship and also the u.s. relationship to saudi arabia. and this is a two-part question. first, i'd love to get your opinions on the proxy war going
on throughout the middle east both on military terms and for influence. and on the question of energy, does a possibility of a two-pillar solution using both saudi arabia and iran for security in the middle east exist, and that's possible -- if that's possible, does a potential expansion of u.s. domestic energy production open a door to a numbering solution? -- to a energy solution? thank you. >> i think the notion of a proxy war, i think i understand what you're saying. i think i'd use a different vocabulary from that. and this gets into the issue of the relationship with saudi arabia. what's going on right now in the middle east is that saudi arabia, as it has done at any number of points in its, in its modern history, is basically using the promotion of a
particular sort of salafi islam. we tend to call it knew has been by islam in the u.s. although saudis don't really like that term. but this very particular notion of salafi islam, the kind of salafi islam we see embodied in, say, the taliban, saudi arabia actively promotes this kind of islam as a tool of its foreign policy. and, you know, under current circumstances in the region saudi efforts to do that are escalating. now, even though saudi arabia's partner of the united states, i don't think that's in the interests of the united states to have the saudis doing that. you know? if it wasn't for saudi arabia, al-qaeda wouldn't exist, and the taliban wouldn't exist. and yet we call iran the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. okay. so there is something that the
saudis are doing here. it's a very deeply-ingrained part of their own national security strategy. but time and time again it works against american interests, and i think it's working against american interests now. and the united states, i think, by tying itself to the saudis with this aspect of their strategy, this is only going to contribute to further erosion of the american position in the region. over time. um, you know, in terms of energy i think we have been telling ourselves that because of saudi arabia, because of iraq, because of shale oil that we don't really need iran for energy purposes. and i think that's quite foolish over the long run. the reality is that as iran has been reducing domestic subsidies over the last two or three
years, the saudis and other gulf arab energy producers have been increasing domestic subsidies out of concern of potential restiveness in their own populations to a point where saudi arabia now needs $100-a-barrel oil. they need $100-a-barrel oil. they are worried about what will happen domestically if they don't have those kinds of revenues that they can put into these kinds of, essentially, buy off your population kinds of initiatives. that means that the saudis are not going to be able to play this role they think they will play where, oh, we can attack iran and take iranian oil off the market, and the saudis will just increase production and cover everything, and it will all be fine. the world doesn't work that way. um, if it ever did. it certainly doesn't work that way anymore. >> well, thank you very